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The Way Out: Ashley Creek’s Story about Childhood Trauma and Substance Use

Ashley Creek, Certified Peer Support Specialist — December 19, 2019 — 5 min read
My story is one with a beginning, but no end. It is a story that continues to evolve and change. With each season that passes, a new me rises from the ashes of my past.

As I heal from trauma and unlearn the patterns that were handed down from generation to generation, another facet of who I was always meant to be emerges. Instead of stuffing my problems and hiding them through substance use, I confront them and adjust my behavior. I walk in forgiveness toward myself and those who harmed me, knowing that many people got here the same way I did – because someone showed us a way to live that was contrary to a life of wellness lived to its fullest.

My childhood didn’t seem normal. Looking back I know that as fact. I grew up without money, without opportunity. I didn’t have bedtime stories and lullabies. My bedtime routine was: how can I keep my little brother asleep while my mother and her boyfriend scream and fight. How am I going to get to the phone to call the police when it went too far? I didn’t grow up with big dreams. I grew up wondering, “How can I get through this day without my mother losing it on me. Is my dad coming back? How long is he going to be gone this time?”

In addition to the trauma I grew up with, I also learned something else from my teenage parents. I learned that the only way to deal with life was to stuff it deep down and keep moving. The way you did this was simple – drugs and alcohol.

I was given alcohol at a young age by a family member. That experience was the first time I knew what it was like to be in the absence of severe anxiety. As a child, I can recall constantly complaining about stomach aches. It was always dismissed as just a kid trying to fake her way out of school. What I know now is that I was already experiencing symptoms of toxic stress and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This started a pattern in my life of using substances as a way to escape from the reality of my circumstances and seek relief from the emotional pain I was suffering from due to those circumstances.

Most of my life, I never felt very stable or hopeful. I was taught not to expect much out of life – that it was simply not the hand I was dealt. I went from job to job just trying to make it day to day and drinking myself into a state of oblivion every night. There were a lot of troubles along the way. Imagine living in a pit with no hope of ever getting out, and the worst creepy crawly things slept with you. Imagine never seeing any light at the end of the tunnel, just living a life in darkness. It was this hopelessness and the constant nightmares of my past that led me deeper into my addictions.

Most people in this world long for a partner, and I have been no different. The difference between me and a well-adjusted person is that I didn't just long for someone, I needed someone. I needed them to validate my worth. I needed someone just as broken to focus on, so I could ignore myself. I always ended up with the wrong one of course – a man that I would use as a representative of my past relationships. In each new relationship, I would continue the endless pursuit of changing everything about myself in the hopes they would stay, love me, and treat me with dignity and respect. This pattern of behavior also perpetuated my need for substances. I was desperate to receive the love I always needed, and I would sacrifice anything to get it, including myself. It was in one of these relationships that I found my next downfall. He was addicted to heroin and I would soon find myself doing it with him.

It had become increasingly harder to subdue the rage that grew inside of me from all the years of abuse. People might wonder why I never really sought help or told anyone. I never talked about the abuse really. I was afraid to tell people. I grew up with the silent rule that you never told people family business. Living below the poverty level and keeping the silent rule in mind, I felt like I had few options to deal with the anxiety, the nightmares, and the depression. Finally, I had a day everything changed. I was in jail and I was alone. I couldn’t understand how this was my reality. I felt worthless and cast off by society. That day I made a profession of faith in my cell. I wanted one of two things, to die or to finally get the chance to live. That day was the first day of my recovery. 

Today I am a person in long-term recovery, and I enjoy every breath I take. I no longer wake up wishing to die, but awake, instead, asking myself what can I do today to live? It has been a rocky road to get to such a place, but well worth it. Unlike the hardships of my past, my recovery hardships have resulted in positive changes in my life. I have learned to forget what is behind and reach for what is ahead. I go out into my new world afraid and unfamiliar with the surroundings, but I push through the fear and forge ahead. I face my trauma and refuse to be victimized by it any longer. I help others who are struggling with substance use and other life-controlling issues. I work at a residential recovery house and have become a Certified Peer Support Specialist. I also work with the Post Overdose Response Team in Rowan County. This program is in place to reach people struggling right where they are.

People think that addiction is a choice. This may be true. But I ask you, until people suffering know their options, what choice does someone really have? My hope is to bring choices and healing to the people. I know shame keeps people from reaching out. Anyone who is in a dark pit would want to escape. They just need to know the way out. I have been able to overcome and find healing. I plan to take what I have learned and show others the way out.
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